WHO: PH COVID-19 surge due to low quarantine compliance, vaccine optimism, variants

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 19 2021 04:25 PM

WHO: PH COVID-19 surge due to low quarantine compliance, vaccine optimism, variants 1
Workers from the Manila Sanitation Department conduct a sanitation operation in a community in Gagalangin, Tondo, Manila on March 15, 2021. The city of Manila placed 6 barangays- 185, 374, 521, 628, 675, and 847 -under locaized lockdown from March 17 to March 20 as COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the city. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The World Health Organization on Friday said that several factors are driving the increase in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, including the presence of more transmissible variants and decreased compliance to health protocols due to vaccine optimism.

“What is striking is that the speed in which the number of cases increase also appears to be a little faster than last year ‘round,” said WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe during a media briefing.

In the past weeks, the country has been logging 4,000 to more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, bringing the total number of cases to around 640,000 by Thursday.

Abeyasinghe called the increase “a very complex scenario” influenced by “vaccine optimism” and the new variants detected in the country. COVID-19 vaccines arrived almost three weeks ago in the country, paving the way for the inoculation program to begin. 

“It’s the fact that the arrival of the vaccines and the optimism that the vaccines brought have resulted in a decreased compliance with the public health measures. It’s not a noticeable decrease. It’s small changes at the individual level but at the community level it has meant it has opened room for the virus transmission to increase,” he explained.

He said that while there was a big focus on planning the deployment of vaccines, “for a few weeks in that effort, there was not enough attention made to implementing standards.”

Abeyasinghe said people should think twice about going out of the house or attending a gathering.

“Because we seem to have relaxed a little bit and that little relaxation appears to have driven and created room for increased transmission. And this is not something not unique to the Philippines,” he said, referring to the increase in cases in other countries.

Video courtesy of the DOH

The WHO official said the other factor they are looking at is “the presence and circulation of multiple new variants.”

“Some of these new variants- the B.1.1.7 originally detected in the United Kingdom or the B.1.351 variant originally detected in South Africa or the P.1 variant detected in Brazil, which have been confirmed in circulation in the Philippines and particularly in the NCR — have been associated with reports of increased transmissibility,” he said.

He said the continued increases shows that COVID-19 “remains a new disease that we need to understand.”

He said it is good that the country is able to cope with the current increase in cases, especially since the surge last year resulted in Metro Manila being placed under the stricter enhanced community quarantine.

The region, the virus epicenter, is now under general community quarantine. Several cities have enforced surgical lockdowns to contain the virus spread.

Abeyasinghe said they are closely monitoring health care facility utilization and the availability of beds and mechanical ventilators.

“If we see the systems are going overwhelmed we might go for more stringent quarantine measures but in the interim we are working with the Department of Health to ensure that localized measures can be implemented with the necessary stringent rigor, discipline and public cooperation so we can hopefully avert the need for a major enhanced community quarantine of the Metro during this increase,” he said.

Abeyasinghe said this as the Inter-Agency Task Force announced the closure of some industries such as cinemas to stop the transmission of the disease.

The OCTA Group also called for a “hard GCQ” with added mobility restrictions such as the discouraging gatherings and indoor dining.